READ : Luke 12:8-9
Listen to these words of Jesus. I’m reading from the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 12, verse 8:
And I tell you, every one who acknowledges me before men, the Son of man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; but he who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.
The more I reflect on that saying, the more remarkable it seems to me. Here is Jesus, a man in His early thirties, living in an obscure subject country. He is without wealth or power, relatively unknown except in His own circle. He is neither formally trained nor officially accredited as a religious teacher. Yet calmly and confidently, He makes staggering pronouncements like these.
Think of it. Here Jesus claims a certain knowledge of what will transpire at the end of time. He sees it all in His mind’s eye, just what will take place. He speaks of it with an unmistakable note of authority. He tells His countrymen in advance what the final judgment day will be like and what will be decisive for the destiny of every human being. The claim to possess knowledge of that kind is truly amazing.
But that’s only part of it. In these words, Jesus presents Himself as the One who will function as judge on that day. He says that He will determine the future of every man and woman on earth. Their welcome or woe will be in His hands. But even that isn’t all. The deciding factor for everyone on the day of judgment will be the basic attitude that each has expressed toward Him, Jesus, in this life. Let’s look carefully now at these words, trying to understand what it means to acknowledge and to deny Him. We want to grasp how these startling words may apply to us.
First, what is it to acknowledge Jesus before men? Some English translations use the word confess. The Greek word behind both acknowledge and confess is a term that means “to speak the same as” or “to agree with.” But when it’s used of a person, as it is here, acknowledge probably makes the meaning clearest.
To acknowledge Jesus before men has to do obviously with what we say. For a Christian to make “confession of faith” is to acknowledge first of all who Jesus is. The apostle John writes, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God” (1 John 4:15). To confess Jesus is to say that He is indeed God’s unique Son. It means also to say that He is Israel’s Messiah, the Christ. For the apostle Paul, confessing or acknowledging Jesus means also affirming that He is risen from the dead. Listen, “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). “He is Lord” means that He is the Christ, the Son of God and also that He’s alive, risen and reigning. He is the Savior. He is the King. To confess Him means to say what once doubting Thomas said in wonder and worship, “My Lord and my God.”
According to Jesus, this confession is to be made “before men.” That is, the witness we bear is public. We “believe in our hearts,” as Paul puts it, but we also “confess with our lips,” so that others can hear it. When we confess our faith in Jesus Christ and unite with a body of believers, we declare openly in the presence of the whole congregation that Jesus is Lord and that He is our Savior.
But this confession or acknowledgement before men doesn’t involve only fellow believers. Sometimes Christians are called to give an accounting before government authorities or hostile critics. They are challenged to say whether or not they are followers of Jesus, whether or not they belong to Him. Jesus envisions a situation like that when He says, “Now when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious how or what you are to answer or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:11-12).
To acknowledge Jesus before men means a readiness, as the apostle Peter puts it, to “give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason of the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). The martyrs are the ones who have witnessed a good confession, who have affirmed that they believe in Jesus, even when that meant persecution to the death. There are times and situations, apparently, in which acknowledging Jesus can be painful and costly.
But though it involves words, the confession of which Jesus speaks is not only verbal. Confession is also a matter of the life. I was reading the other day of a Mennonite farmer who had been approached by a zealous evangelist with the question, “Are you saved?” The farmer didn’t resent the inquiry. He knew that the man who approached him was well-meaning. But he didn’t know exactly how to answer. So he took out a piece of paper and wrote down the names of ten people in the community who knew him well. “Some of these,” he said, “are my close friends. Some are not. I would like you to ask them if they think I am saved.”
The farmer was saying that the life speaks as well as the lips. This man had confessed Jesus as his Lord and Savior. He belonged to a Christian fellowship. But in answering the question, “Are you saved?” he wanted to be sure that his manner of living was in harmony with his verbal witness. So he said, “Ask the people who know me best.” Not a bad idea.
To confess Jesus, to acknowledge Him, is at the deepest level to be identified with Him and with His purpose on earth. It’s to throw in our lot with Him, come what may. And Jesus promises that as we do that, He will acknowledge us on the last day. He will say of us, “Yes, he, she, is one of Mine.” He will identify Himself with us. Before the assembled hosts of heaven, He will speak our name. He will acknowledge us.
What about denying Him before men? What does that mean? To deny Christ is to reject the basic affirmations believers make. In answer to the question, “Is He the Christ?” deniers say, “No, He is only a pretender.” Did Jesus claim to be God’s unique Son? They say “no” again. They refuse to make the basic Christian acknowledgement, “Jesus is Lord.” To them He is not the risen One to whom all authority belongs. When such people are questioned, either by believers or by secular authorities, “Are you a Christian? Are you a follower of Jesus?” they answer consistently in the negative.
But the denial of Christ also is finally determined by the life. It is sadly possible to say that we believe in Jesus, to recite the orthodox creed and still to repudiate Jesus by the way we live. Jude, the brother of James, writes about “ungodly persons who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (v. 4). Jude seems to say there that we can disown Christ by a lifestyle that goes flat against the faith we claim. The apostle Paul writes also of some who “profess to know God, but they deny him by their deeds” (Titus 1:16).
All of this raises the alarming possibility that we may confess Christ with our lips but reject Him by our lives. And in God’s sight, all verbal professions that are not authenticated in behavior are worthless. Jesus asks such pretenders, “Why do you call me `Lord, Lord’ and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).
The future for such people, for all who disown Christ, is gloomy indeed. They will be denied, Jesus says, before the angels of God. Those who have not acknowledged Jesus in this present life will hear Him say in the next, “Depart from me; I never knew you.”
WHO WILL BE WELCOME?
Now I don’t know about you, but this leaves me with a number of questions when I try to apply it to real people. I wonder about this: does anyone faithfully confess Jesus, both in word and in conduct, for a lifetime? Haven’t we all had moments when we were ashamed of Him or did not speak His name when we ought? And have there not been times when the way we’ve treated another person has been a practical disavowal of the faith we claim? Is there any hope for people like us?
Think about Simon Peter, the rugged apostle, first among the twelve. He denied that he ever knew Jesus – not once but three times. He even punctuated those denials with oaths and curses. There, Peter’s guilty. He denied the Lord. He did it before men and women. What will happen to him on judgment day?
Or think of someone who has been a bitter unbeliever all the days of her life. She’s refused to believe in Jesus. She would not submit her life to His leading and lordship. She has lived that way for 60-plus years.
But one day through the witness of a grandchild, this lady had a change of heart. She began to soften to the things of Christ. Eventually, she confessed her faith in Jesus and began to live the life of a faithful disciple. What will be said about her before the angels of God?
I believe that both Simon Peter and this repentant lady will be welcomed on the last day. Our most scornful denials of Jesus can be forgiven. There is a way back from our most wilful wanderings, even a welcome home. When He speaks of denying Him, Jesus is not talking about a careless word here or a hasty action there. Acknowledging and denying have to do with our basic attitudes toward Jesus, our fundamental relationship to Him, the main drift of our lives. And He’s not as concerned with what we may have said or done in the past as He is with what we’re saying and doing now. It’s not how you started out in life, but how you finish the race that counts most.
Let that be for you a word of encouragement if you’re afraid that you’ve denied the Lord. Maybe you’ve said that you don’t believe in Him. You can’t accept the idea that He’s the Son of God. You haven’t made a personal commitment to Christ and you don’t call yourself a Christian at all. It’s still true that your situation can change dramatically. Remember, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Yes, everyone. You can confess to Him this very day all your denial and unbelief and disobedience. You can claim Him as your Savior and your Lord. You can acknowledge Him now before others and all the failures of the past will be forgiven. You can repent of every evil in your past, every Christ-denying pattern, and begin a new life in His service. And as you do that, you can have the assurance that He will do for you what He promised to do for each believer in the church in Sardis, “I will not blot his name out of the book of life; I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels” (Rev. 3:5).
But there’s a word of warning here, too, isn’t there? You can shut the door of mercy in your own face. You can refuse to acknowledge Jesus both in words and works. You can say in a bitter poet’s words, “I want no Jesus Christ to think He ever died for me.” Oh, I hope that won’t happen for you! My prayer is that no one sharing this program today will say a final “no” to Jesus Christ.
In a sense, to confess or acknowledge means to declare allegiance to someone. It’s as though Jesus is on trial in the world’s eyes. You’re one of the witnesses summoned. “What about you? Do you claim Him? Are you identified with Him? Do you belong to Him and follow Him?”
In the life to come, the positions will be reversed. We will be the ones on trial. Will Jesus speak then on our behalf? Will He claim us, identify Himself with us?
The wonderful truth is, friends, that Jesus has already confessed us, already identified Himself with us and acted on our behalf. He is there for us now, ready to be claimed, appropriated and followed. He is ours if we want Him, ours unless we persist in saying no.
I can’t imagine why anyone would do that. Would you repudiate your best friend? Would you despise the mother who gave you birth? Would you say, “I don’t know him” of a brother who has been devoted to you? No. How then could you deny the Lord who gave His life in love for you? He has identified Himself with us in our sin and sadness. How unthinkable that we should not identify ourselves with Him in the joy of His salvation!
Prayer: Father, may every person reading these words both believe in the heart and confess with the lips that Jesus is Lord. In His name. Amen.